Prince Philip was sprightly and walked without a stick until he died in April at the age of 99. What kept him going? It was likely 5BX, the original functional fitness routine. It stands for Five Basic Exercises and is an 11-minute workout that was developed for the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1956.
“[It] was developed to show you how to develop and maintain a high level of physical fitness regardless of your location, ”says the introductory brochure for the training. “The 5BX plan makes physical fitness achievable for every member of the RCAF.”
Multiple sources report that the Duke of Edinburgh went through the simple regimen of daily exercises without equipment – the workout even appeared on an episode of The Crown, a Netflix series about the reign of Prince Philip’s wife, Queen Elizabeth II.Shutterstock
Canadian Bill Orban developed the routine based on research he did at the University of Illinois in the 1950s. By testing oxygen uptake, he found that duration of exercise was less important to general fitness than intensity. The RCAF knew that their personnel were incapable of combat and tasked Orban with developing a training program that the troops could conduct anywhere, even in their barracks, and that was short enough to conduct each day.
“To develop physical fitness, exercises must be balanced and planned,” explains the spokesman in a 5BX commercial. “You have to be progressive. And above all vigorous and regular. “
The five basic exercises include tiptoe, situps, back extensions, pushups, and running. To make it accessible and encourage continuous intensification, Orban added six diagrams that dictate the modification of each exercise and the progression of the rep count. As the demands on fitness, strength, and endurance increase, the time spent on each exercise, and the total length of the workout, does not. For example, on Chart One, the sit-up is done with your legs flat and requires you to “lift your head just high enough to see your heels”. A ‘D’ value is 3 repetitions in 1 minute; an ‘A’ is 18. On Chart Six, the toughest, there are 35 to 50 V-seats in 1 minute.
The 11-minute duration and device-free nature of the exercise were controversial at the time, but RCAF testing confirmed its effectiveness. Orban developed a women-specific version called the XBX that comprised six puffs in 12 minutes. And 5BX became popular inside and outside the military.
In 1961, the RCAF published training for civilians by publishing a book called Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Plans For Physical Fitness. Over the next 30 years it was translated into 13 languages and sold 23 million times. Some credit him for kicking off modern fitness culture and definitely inspiring modern fitness gurus and trends – it sounds like a CrossFit workout.
While Prince Philip may no longer be 5BXing, his daily workout lives on. According to reports, Prince Charles and Prince William also practice the routine.
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